Monday, August 29, 2011

The Thinking Atheist to appear in OKC

The Thinking Atheist will be appearing at the Disbelief Discourse in Edmond, Oklahoma on Tuesday, November, 22 @ 7:30 pm. Seth gave a great presentation at FreeOK July, and I am very excited that he will be making his way down the turnpike to address our group. The event, as always, is free, but bring money for merchandise. Mugs and t-shirts will be available. Let's make sure he gets a good turnout and a warm Oklahoma City welcome.

For more information on Seth, check out his videos @

The venue is Channing Unitarian Universalist Church in Edmond. 2800 West 15th Street, Edmond, OK.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why Craig thinks this is all silly...and why he's wrong

William Lane Craig has a standard set of responses to the line of thought I've laid out over the last couple of posts. His first has already been alluded to. He argues that his claims rest on metaphysical assumptions and can't be challenged empirically. This is just false. I've already explained why he makes empirically testable predictions. Now, let's look at the rest of his arguments:
On virtual particles:

But there is much debate over the actual existence of virtual particles. Also, virtual particles pop into existence 'uncaused' only given indeterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics like the Copenhagen interpretation, but that may be the wrong interpretation, and most interpretations of quantum mechanics are deterministic, and would not suppose that virtual particles come into existence uncaused. Thirdly and most importantly, even on indeterministic interpretations, virtual particles do not come into being out of nothing. They arise from fluctuations of energy contained in the subatomic vacuum. [Craig & Sinclair, 2009]

First, virtual particles exist. They've been empirically demonstrated.

Second, my entire last post dealt with interpretations of quantum mechanics. I've already explained why Craig has no justification for denying Copenhagen or picking one other interpretation over another. For Craig to get what he wants here, he either needs for there to be time travel or many worlds. He conveniently fails to mention that in his above paragraph, because he has no reason to believe the first is the case and he would abhor the implications of the second.

Third, Craig argues that quantum fluctuations don't undermine his argument because they don't come from nothing. This is just willfully missing the point of the argument. I don't care if they come from nothing. If they are uncaused, whether it came from nothing or not is a moot point. You can go down the rabbit hole of discussing whether or not the multi-verse creates problems for atheists, but better people than I have explained why Craig's arguments fail in this regard. What matters here is that Craig's first premise is false because that premise holds implied premises we can't justify. If Craig isn't going to defend his notion of causality, then he has no justification for all of the arguments he makes based on that notion.

Every single time this is brought to his attention, he makes hand-waving arguments about metaphysical truths. That's code word for unjustifiable presuppositions. You can get away with that with regards to subjects like objective reality and consistent laws of the universe, because we don't have good empirical reasons for calling those into question and all of the evidence to date supports them. We have damn fine empirical reasons for calling our notion of causality into question, and all of the talk about metaphysics and vague references to possible future discoveries in physics isn't going to change the fact that our best current understanding of the universe shows Craig's presupposition to be very questionable.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Where our idea of causation goes wrong or playing dice with the universe

I am going to argue that quantum mechanics undermines our intuitive understanding of causality.

In almost every case where someone begins a debate about the existence or non-existence of something and they make an appeal to quantum mechanics to back up that claim, you should immediately start waving a red flag and telling them to hold up.

So, I'm not going to go into this without seriously backing up my claims.

I want to begin by saying that nothing I'm going to say here is controversial in physics. I'm not going for anything that isn't mainstream stuff. Please, follow my sources for further reading.

I'm not going to give an introduction to quantum physics here. If you really want to read a consumer-friendly book on the subject (and you should because it has implications for all kinds of things), you should start with How to Teach Physics to Your Dog by Chad Orzel. You should also be reading his blog, Uncertain Principles. It is one of the friendliest blogs on the internet dealing with this thorny subject. Another good blog on this topic over at Science Blogs is called Starts With A Bang. Both blogs cover cosmology and quantum physics.

I'm going to assume you at least have a decent grasp of the double-slit experiment, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the Copenhagen Interpretation and Schrodinger's Cat.

The implications of the double-slit experiment and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is what led to the Copenhagen Interpretation. The reaction to Copenhagen is Schrodinger's Cat. If that is gobbledy-gook to you, stop now and go read the links...

Okay, back? Good.

Now, there are three possible implications for the findings of quantum physics (see below). How you side on these implications determines which of the various interpretations you prefer.

Here's what's probably surprising to my readers. I'm not going to advocate for any one interpretation. I would be stupid to do so. We don't know which interpretation is true. We don't know if we will ever know which interpretation is true. I am agnostic about which interpretation of quantum physics is correct. I have no preferences. I'm in the shut up and calculate camp until we have some way of testing which is correct.

That doesn't mean we can't rule out some interpretations. Additionally, the ones left over after we've ruled the others out have massive philosophical implications (especially for causality).

There are three broad approaches to answering the issue of indeterminacy in quantum mechanics (instrumentalist approaches are not actually attempts to answer the issue but to ignore it).

1. Indeterminacy is a feature of our universe and our classical idea of causality breaks down. Instead, nature is fundamentally probabilistic. (e.g. Copenhagen interpretation).
2. Our universe is determined, but the variables that determine it our hidden and travel faster than the speed of light. (i.e. Non-Local Hidden Variable Theories)
3. Our universe is determined, but the variables that determine it are hidden and do not travel faster than the speed of light. (i.e. Local Hidden Variable Theories)

Everybody who likes our current intuitions about causality want #3 to be true. It isn't.

Einstein was wrong when he said, "God does not play dice with the Universe."

So, what are the implications for #1 and #2 for our traditional view of causation?

Well, #1 says that it is simply incorrect. Probability, not determinism, is what it all boils down to. Once you get the outcome of the probabilities, things are determined afterwards (which is why we experience causality in everyday life).

Non-local hidden variable theories (#2), require faster-than-light travel. That means time travel, folks. Time travel breaks causality too.

So, that's the argument. Our intuitions about causality don't square with our empirical observations of quantum physics. People like Craig can argue that our understanding of causation is a "metaphysical principle" all they want, but if that principle doesn't square with empirical observation, that principle shouldn't be used as the justification for a premise in someone's argument for the existence of anything, especially the existence of anything having to do with the Big Bang.

Next, I'll deal with Craig's objections to this whole line of reasoning.


Edit: The Many Worlds Interpretation of QM does allow for locality and determinism, but it creates entirely new problems for Craig. He would never appeal to it. There is still a probability built into Many Worlds in that there is no way of knowing which universe you ended up with until after the fact. It also means that Jesus only died when Craig believes in this particular universe. There is up to an infinite number of other universes out there where this did not occur. See Craig on infinity to understand why he would balk at something like that.

It salvages causality to spite everything else Craig holds dear. Of course, it might very well be true. Only time and science will tell.

Edit again: The Many Worlds Interpretation isn't entire local. It sort of gets around the local vs. non-local issue by just circumventing it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Kalam Cosmological Argument and our intuitions about causes, Pt. 1.

My concerns with the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) rely largely on my objection to the reliability of our intuitions about the way the universe works on the quantum level.

At face value, this has nothing to do with the KCA, and Craig says as much in his 2009 article. Over the next few blog posts I'm going to outline why quantum mechanics (QM) does matter for cosmological arguments (all of them, not just Craig's) and then explain why Craig's argument shouldn't be accepted as it is currently presented and defended.

I am going to be making two claims that I must defend for this line of reasoning to bear fruit:

1. Craig's first premise relies on our intuitions about causality.
2. Our intuitions about causality are not reliable.

In these two lines of thought, we are going to have to ask some questions that bear on subjects like philosophy of science and other fields, such as: What does it mean to say something is caused? and What are the implications of all of this for the scientific enterprise?

I'm going to spend the rest of this post on #1.

As a reminder, the premise under discussion is:

Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
Craig defends this premise with three arguments:

1.1. Ex nihilo nihil fit
1.2. Why only universes
1.3. Experimental confirmation

We must touch on all three.

1.1. Ex nihilo nihil fit

From Craig's 2009 paper on the KCA:
First and foremost, the principle is rooted in the metaphysical intuition that something cannot come into being from nothing. For to come into existence without a cause of any sort is to come into being from nothing. To suggest that something could just pop into being uncaused out of nothing is to quit doing serious metaphysics and to resort to magic.

Strong words. I'll begin by pointing out the irony of an apologist accusing his opponents of making appeals to magic and move on to the important issue here, Craig is arguing that his first premise is intuitively true. If we deny any of this premise, we aren't doing serious metaphysics.

1.2. Why only universes

From Craig's paper.

The Causal Principle plausibly applies to all of reality, and it is thus metaphysically absurd that the universe should pop into being uncaused out of nothing.
1.3 Experiential Confirmation

And here is where it gets interesting. This should be the evidence we need to leave this whole intuition thing in the dust. Here Craig gives one sentence alone to justify that subheading.

Finally, (1.0) is constantly confirmed in our experience.

The entire rest of the section is dedicated to explaining how, if the first premise is wrong, it is detrimental to the entire scientific endeavor. We'll leave that for later. I just want to point out that there is no actual argument made to defend the thesis he lays out in that first sentence. By all means, go read it for yourself on pages 87-89.

The argument that causation is constantly confirmed in our experience is an interesting one, and true almost all of the time. It is the times when it isn't that we are interested in, and so we will discuss causation and when it breaks down in the next post.

Introducing the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

I have decided to do several posts going into detail on William Lane Craig's version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA). This post will outline what the argument is, and the most common scholarly objections to date.

First a little background. The KCA is currently very popular with Christian apologists, particularly Evangelicals, but it wasn't always this way. The argument was originally formulated by Islamic scholars within the Kalam tradition, hence the name. It is William Lane Craig that popularized it with Christian audiences in his 1979 book on the subject.

The argument, as Craig originally put it, goes like this:

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.
  4. Since no scientific explanation (in terms of physical laws) can provide a causal account of the origin of the universe, the cause must be personal (explanation is given in terms of a personal agent)
Craig also provides two other arguments subsumed within these premises.

For premise 2, he argues:
  1. An actual infinite cannot exist.
  2. An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite.
  3. Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist.
Along with:
  1. A collection formed by successive addition cannot be an actual infinite.
  2. The temporal series of past events is a collection formed by successive addition.
  3. Therefore, the temporal series of past events cannot be actually infinite.
There have been oceans of ink spilled over this argument. Most of those oceans focus on premise two, though premise one has also seen its share of comments from the likes of Stephen Hawking.

Craig, along with physicist James D. Sinclair, published the definitive version of the argument in 2009. You can find it in its 101 page glory here. I am going to be relying on that paper for my quotations of Craig in future posts on this topic.

For a very good mapping of Craig's arguments, his main criticisms, and his answers to his critics in his 2009 article, I point you to some of the wonderful work by Luke over at Common Sense Atheism.

The most recent version of the argument that we will be discussing goes as follows (from Luke):

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

But this says nothing about God, so Craig & Sinclair add:

  1. If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.
  2. Therefore, an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.
Next, we will look at one particular weakness with the KCA as it currently exists, and why we can't rely on it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument, Pt. 2

I am cross-posting this from some discussions elsewhere. I'll go back and edit it for quality later.

I'm going to structure these one objection at a time and label them for the benefit of both of us.

Objection 1: Our intuitions can't be relied upon for this discussion.

Before we even start, I want to point out the biggest problem with the KCA and why it is a complete non-starter. It entirely relies on our intuitions about subjects where our intuitions don't apply.

Let's unpack that claim. We have evolved to experience subject matter at about the middle of the size in which events occur. Events that occur on massive scales and near the speed of light don't act in ways that correspond to our intuitions. More importantly events that are extremely small and occur near the speed of light (events that Craig must rely upon to make his points) also don't follow our intuitions.

It becomes impossible for us to rely upon our intuitions about these events because our intuitions have always been wrong. Wave-particle duality is just the crack in the box on this. If you want a good book on just how much modern physics and our understanding of the universe doesn't correspond to our intuitions, a good starting place is How to Teach Physics to your Dog.

So, the obvious response is to ask what can be relied upon for understanding Big Bang Cosmology. Well, science can take us quite a distance, but as Craig points out, science can only get us so far. As for right now, we don't have any uncontroversial evidence of "before the Big Bang." There are good cosmologists proposing possible sources of evidence for something that would qualify for "outside our universe", but all that does is push the problem back further.

I will remind you that Penrose is probably wrong. This data is quite preliminary and he may be drawing the wrong conclusions about it. But even the fact that scientists can have this conversation intelligently will raise problems for some of Craig's later points.

Here is a really good discussion of Penrose's ideas from a blog I occasionally follow.

Whew, okay, back out of that rabbit hole. So yeah, Science can say a lot, but it has limits by the very nature of the process. What can we say when we reach the limits? Not much, for now. Our intuitions broke down at sizes much larger and speeds much slower than where we end up, so to rely on intuitions about these subjects is patently wrong. All we can say is that we don't know about this or that question for one, or both, of two reasons:

1. The question isn't well formed.
2. We don't have access to empirical data that allows us to get at that question.

The topics Craig wants us to discuss run afoul of both.

We'll have to assume that I'm wrong about all of this to even bother going further.

Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument, Pt. 1.

I am cross-posting this from some discussions elsewhere. I'll go back and edit it for quality later.

Steve - Thanks for the response. You are right that the link doesn't debunk KCA.

It does make my point that the argument is so spread out and nebulous that it can't be answered in the time of a debate. It also can't be adequately presented in the time of a debate without getting to the most superficial objections.

There are some real holes with the KCA though.

I will be more than happy to explain them. I'm not going to lie. It has been a while since I've gone over the KCA, so I'm going to be drawing from three sources:

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's page on the Cosmological Argument (this is a peer reviewed source)

Chris Hallquist's review of Reasonable Faith on

And a book that isn't online titled Philosophy and Physics by Sir James Jeans. I'll posts links to the book on Amazon and to his bio.